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Beyond the Atlas: Commercial Navigation Solutions Can Be a Driver’s Best Friend

As the supply chain grows increasingly complex, so does the job performed by truckers to keep it moving. But like in the following real-life example, driving from A to B is often anything but a straightforward job.

One of the ATA America’s Road Captains, Ina Daly, began her career 38 years ago, when there were few women driving trucks, every cab had a CB radio and drivers planned routes using paper maps. Today there are approximately 115,000 women with CDLs, every driver has a smartphone, and while most drivers aren’t ready to give up their favorite atlas, successful navigation and trip planning increasingly depend on digital map technology.

Forty years ago drivers discussed routes, traffic, and directions with each other while grabbing coffee at a truck stop or over the CB. The information was delayed, but it still helped. Our veteran driver remembers when truckers would tear out the maps from the back pages of local phone books to help them deliver a load in an unfamiliar area.

A Driver’s Perspective on Route Navigation

Like most industry vets, Daly still uses a Rand McNally to plan trips, but she and most of the drivers she knows depend on map technology. According to Daly, “Technology has changed trucking. It’s critical to what we do now.”

She’s a short-haul regional driver. On unfamiliar runs she starts with opening the road atlas to get the big picture, then goes online to check the state’s Department of Transportation website, looking for construction sites that might cause lane closures. Out on the road, Daly uses a GPS designed for commercial trucks. She can tell when other drivers are using GPS units designed for cars because they're doing unwise things like driving through residential neighborhoods. Or, making unsafe moves--as one driver did--by driving onto the boardwalk in New Jersey.

Because her GPS won’t tell her about distant road closures that could impact her trip, every once in a while she’ll get a call from a fellow driver whose rig is equipped with a full navigation platform giving her a heads up (her company is currently testing a new system).

A few months ago Ina Daly was heading home when she saw an overhead sign warning the road was closed ahead. She exited on the next exit ramp, thinking she was far enough ahead of the closure and pulled up the Waze app, looking for a quick way to an alternate route. The crowd-sourced app told her to turn left, onto what she saw was a dirt road heading toward farmland that would put her on a small bridge crossing a canal.

She had enough experience to know she had no business putting a loaded double trailer on a road and bridge like that, and stayed put. She called drivers she knew coming up behind her, warning them to get off the road as soon as they could, and watched as truck after truck turned left, putting their loads at risk. It was hours before she got through.

Highlighting the Benefits of Commercial Navigation Tools

Dwayne Lazarre, director of Strategic Accounts for Trimble MAPS, has heard a lot of stories like that one, especially about fleet managers who believe they don’t need to add any more technology to their operating costs because their drivers have regular routes they know well. Lazarre acknowledged that’s a valid, relevant perspective.

“Drivers without integrated navigation systems have a far more difficult time avoiding road closures and accidents, and that a single incident on the first leg of a route, whether it’s an accident or a missed turn, creates a cascading effect negatively impacting every subsequent delivery,” he explained.

Today’s commercial map and navigation technology provides solutions for drivers and fleets with data-driven route planning, real-time navigation, precise ETAs, current traffic and weather conditions, forecasting, mileage calculation, HOS planning and real-time visibility. There are low-end, GPS-based navigation apps designed for commercial drivers, but they provide only the minimum level of navigation technology every commercial vehicle should be using.

Crowdsourced apps also have a limited value for finding open truck stops, parking spaces and other amenities. They divert the driver’s attention from the road to their phone.

When exploring a solution, ask these important questions:

  • Is your fleet equipped to maximize its time on the road?
  • Do your drivers have the tools they need to be as efficient as possible behind the wheel when it comes to traffic, weather, detours, added pick-ups and the unexpected?
  • What’s the ROI for being unprepared?
  • What could you do with the data if you knew exactly how long each route took, rather than estimating it based on experience?

Getting the truck from A to B is the paramount task, but drivers need to find fuel, food, showers, restrooms, parking spaces, rest areas and restaurants along the way. While much of this information is available from different sources, online and print, the real questions become:

  • How current and accurate is the information?
  • How much time does it take to look it up?
  • How safe is it for a truck driver to look for something on a smartphone while driving in bad weather, navigating a traffic jam or dealing with an unexpected move by someone in the next lane?
  • What happens to a driver’s ETA once he or she pulls off the road to safely look for an alternative, and how will one missed ETA cascade through the rest of their route?

According to Trimble’s Lazarre, “a navigation system that can shave half a point from a standard 2% out-of-route calculation that pays for itself while providing countless benefits to the back office and drivers on the road.”

Trimble MAPS offers a suite of solutions providing unique data and features to increase the efficiency, safety and bottom line of any fleet. Drivers can plan practical routes powered by industry-standard PC*MILER commercial routing, and create schedules that enhance their life on the road and hit their delivery windows. CoPilot from Trimble MAPS provides turn-by-turn navigation based on a commercial vehicle’s size, weight and load delivering adaptive route customization and real-time traffic updates all the way through the last mile.

Experience the Power of Trimble’s Driver-Focused Technology

From commercial navigation solutions to compliance and workflow tools, in-cab technology is helping drivers across the industry reach new levels of productivity, safety and efficiency.

Ready to find out how to enhance your in-cab experience? Talk to us today to learn more about Trimble’s wide range of driver-focused solutions and how we can help your fleet operate more effectively in today’s supply chain.